Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Catfish bait

My post about using chicken skins brought in an email from a reader.

The guys at work told him about using chicken skins for catfish bait.  Chicken skins are cheap, tough and fatty and leak protein.  The guys at work said that chicken skins only needed the addition of a very special kind of flavored oil to make it an absolute killer on medium sized, "eatin" channel cats.

The reader visited every shop in town that he thought might carry this product.  The sales clerks were invariably polite.  They are used to unusual requests.  He felt a little bit odd about asking for this flavored oil, especially when he would unexpectedly see neighbors in the shops.  But as he told the clerks, the most experienced guy at work said it was very, very important that he get the kind that tasted like licorice.  None of the shops said that they carried the product he was looking for.

He was stunned when his wife found it in a grocery store.

And it was spelled differently than he expected.

A thought for Lent

Lent is a time when Christians are called to heel our inner soles.

It helps if you use the right kind of duct tape.

Fat Tuesday

Mrs ERJ's family has roots in DeQuincy, Louisiana (Calcasieu Parish).  I rarely bring this up because I don't want people to think I am a social climber...plus I would lose all of my readers in Alabama.

Paczki are an Eastern European tradition on Fat Tuesday.  Needless to say there were not many families of Polish descent in DeQuincy.

DeQuincy traditions are more along the lines of pecan pie.

Sometimes a fellow just has to make sacrifices to keep peace in the family.  And this is a sacrifice I am willing to make.

Retired and STILL making house payments!?!?

I had a question come in via email on the post Buy Low, Sell High.

The writer wanted to know how many retirees were still making house payments.

Background info

There about 110 million "households" in the United States

75 million of them live in what are euphemistically called "owner occupied housing".

25 million of them live in housing that is completely paid for, that is, the bank does not have a lien against the property.

When broken down by age group we see
Posed another way:
  • For the age group 60-64, there are three people still paying on their mortgage for every two people who have their mortgage paid off.
  • For people ages 65-74 there is almost a one-for-one ratio between those who are still paying and those who have their house paid off
  • For people age 75 and older there are four people still paying for every fifteen who have their mortgage paid off. This big jump may be due to life insurance pay-outs being used to tidy up finances.

Dragging brush

I spent five hours dragging brush out of Salamander's Orchard

This is sort of a "before" picture.  I had been cutting and pulling for a bit before I figured out this might be a good picture to have.

Dragging brush entails cutting the chunks into a size I can handle without blowing out my back.  Thirty to fifty pounds is a decent size.  Trimming off the twigs and the bushy-brush leaving the chunks.

The bigger pieces of apple wood are going to a restaurant to smoke meat.  They are fussy about having no poison ivy on the wood.  I made sure the wood was clean.

I got most of it into the back of the truck but it squatted her down a bit.
The trimmings went into the swamp.

Plenty of time to look at trees.  This is a Golden Delicious truck with winter damage on the north side.

Dragging brush, I am lichen it.  Moss and lichens are evidence that the trees are in a low state of nutrition.  The trees usually add enough girth that the lichens slough off.  These trees, obviously, need more fertilizer.
This tree could be a metaphor for the economy.  The stem on the left is old.  It has too many branches, too much dead wood and there is way too much competition within the canopy for the sunlight that falls upon it.  Much of the wood has been bend downward by the weight of the fruit.  It tries to set too much fruit and consequently goes into a boom-bust cycle of biennial bearing.  The stem on the right is younger and is carrying an appropriate amount of "wood" and fruiting spurs for the incident sunlight.

I will knock the snot out of the older stem on the left and I will guide the stem on the right away from the older stem by pruning it to bias it to the right.  That will diminish the competition between the two stems and the newer stem will be harvesting "incremental" light.

I took a few breaks.

There is hazelnut growing in the windbreak around the orchard.  It is blooming.  This is a "girl" flower and will turn into a cluster of nuts if pollinated.
These are hazelnut catkins.  They are the "boy" flowers and supply the pollen need for the girls.

Vernal Witchhazel is not a very flashy plant but it smells FABULOUS.  It blooms very early in the spring.  It is not a native of Michigan.

You can click to embiggen.  It amazes me how soft and fine the hairs (anthers) are on these pussy willows.
No pollen is visible yet.  But soon....
This is a selection of Basket Willow, Salix purpurea cv. Onondaga.  I did not realize that it was such an early flowering species.

Beekeepers like male willows that bloom early.  Willow pollen is sticky enough for bees to collect it, unlike the pollen of Red and Silver Maple and aspen.  Those species are wind pollinated and it is a chore for bees to collect the pollen.   Early blooming plants are useful for building up bee hive populations just ahead of the big spring push.  It takes about 30 days from packing the cell with food to a worker bee on-the-wing.  Apple trees generally start blossoming here the second week of May.

If all goes well, I will be dragging brush again today.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Mysteries of Unrequited Love

I had a conversation with a young person this weekend.

She told me about two of her friends.  One of her friends is a woman who recently broke up with her long-term boyfriend.  The other friend is a young man who has been carrying the torch for this young woman.

After the break-up, the young man asked the other friend to go out.  She said "No".  He is still carrying the torch for her.

The young woman who was telling me about this situation also told me that if the young man pulled his head out of his...ahem, backside, she would be delighted to go on a few dates with him.

I think we have all known people like the young man and have been puzzled by them.  Why do they heroically resist the good that is in front of them to pursue with is clearly a fantasy?

Self-handicapping is the act of sabotaging your own efforts to protect your self esteem.  For example, the guy who goes out partying the night before his final.  He gets a C-...but he can perpetuate his belief that he is an "A" student....that he would have earned and A if he had studied.

Pursuing the unattainable might be a way of guarding a fragile self-image.

Endorphin rush
Oh, the exquisite agony of being on the fringes of beloved's radar screen.  Did she see me?  She just smiled, was it because she was thinking of me?  Oh, damn, she is talking to the new guy...

We watch sports because we get those same neurochemical rushes.  But that basketball game only lasts an hour or so.  Our crush can last for decades.

Perfection or reality.  A hard choice for some
Our fantasy love never tells us to pick up our dirty socks or that it is our turn to wash the dishes.  Our fantasy lover never has a headache.  Nor does she ever insist on cooking cauliflower soup.

Empowered by secret knowledge
Some people who cling to unrequited love may be motivated by the glee of knowing a secret that nobody else knows.  That is the glee of conspirtors, secret societies and....stalkers.

Lack of means

And maybe sometimes the unrequited lover is held back by the most pedestrian of reasons:  They don't think they can afford a "real" girlfriend.  Whether it is a lack of time or money or a suitable car, they choose to play fantasy football rather than Nerf ball in the park.
Not a Zebco 202, and not the exact girl...but close enough
The young lady I was talking to finds this excuse to be particularly galling.  She is the kind of girl who thinks a perfect date is catching bluegills beneath the dock, tight-lining with a Zebco 202 and slivers of chicken skin for bait.  Throw in some iced tea and she is rockin'.

Buy low. Sell high.

The yellow flagged message at the bottom of the graphic reads:

"Based on your current stock holdings, your investment mix may need attention.  Explore how to get back on track.  Explore your options."
From the New York Daily News  (Drained pension fund has retired workers pinching pennies to survive, doom looms across U.S.)

"It’s a nightmare, it has just devastated all of our lives."

"They said they were running out of money, that there could be no more in the pension fund, so we had to take the cut"

Milton Acosta, 75, was a dockworker in Local 707. He retired at age 62, figuring his union pension of $2,300, coupled with his Social Security, would keep him and his wife afloat.
Now his pension is $760 a month after taxes, he said.  “I pay $13,000 a year in property taxes alone. My mortgage is $2,300 a month,”

His pension is $9120 per year. He pays $40,600 per year for just his property taxes and his mortgage.  That is not sustainable.

The trucking industry — almost uniformly organized by Teamsters — has suffered enormous financial losses in its pension and welfare funds due to a crippling combination of deregulation and stock market crashes, Nyhan said.
 I am perfectly happy having 2/3 of my savings in short term bond funds.

One of the first rules of investing is to buy low and sell high.  Looking at the equity markets...they look high.  And nearly all of the gains are coming from very few firms.  I am not much of a furniture builder, but I know that the higher you build something and the fewer legs you use to hold it up, the shakier the structure and the rougher the ride down.

Thanks but no thanks.  I will stand pat.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Banking Karma

If I found myself as an illegal alien in the United States in February of 2017 I would start sending money home.

I would send some to my madre y padre.  I would send some to Tio Pablo who has a mechanic shop.  I would send some to my hermanos who work in cement or grow coffee on the family farm.

Gifts are not gifts if they are given with conditions.  But it is OK to suggest that madre buy a futon for people who might need to lodge in the family home or to fix a leaky roof.  It is OK to suggest that Tio Pablo buy a spare set of basic tools.  It is OK to express an interest in trowels, mixers, fertilizers, oil palms and new coffee cultivars.

Image from Novica
I might also start importing cigars and coffee and artwork to the US.

I might export cash and textbooks and old computers, cell phones from the lost-and-found and soccer balls. That would refresh my network and I would be known as the man who injected money back into my hometown.
Image from TheBookshopBlog

If I were an illegal alien in the United States I might fear being sent home in a tidal wave of repatriated countrymen.  Some of those countrymen have been sending money home on a regular basis.  For them it will be a joyful homecoming.

Others have not sent money back.  They will be seen as a burden by those who stayed home and will cause resentment.

I would prefer to be among those who are welcomed back.

What is the worst that can happen?  That I never get deported?  That some other family member sleeps on the futon?  That Tio Pablo hires one of my cousins rather than me?  That my brothers become more productive and I am not there to share in the wealth?

The Second Amendment, a Short Defense

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Folks who argue about the Second Amendment can generally be divided into four camps.  The primary divide is that some folks think  "A well regulated Militia..." is a foundational clause.  Others contend that "A well regulated Militia..." is a supporting clause.

As a pro-Second Amendment blogger, I only need to address the box which starts….”Militias are obsolete…” because that is the only position which attempts to invalidate my right to bear arms.  That position, “Militias are obsolete… foundational argument”  contends that the Second Amendment is about “Militias” and not about firearms.

There are two assumptions about this position that are worth examining:

Militias are obsolete:
At this point it is useful to look at the Fifth Amendment to get some hints on what the authors of the Bill of Rights had in mind when using the word “Militia”.

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

Take a look at the underlined portion:

…except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger

The authors of the Bill of Rights gave us a list of “equivalences” or “same-as”.  In the Second Amendment they use the generic term “security”, in the Fifth Amendment the explicitly say land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger

So even if those who wish to ban guns contend Second Amendment uses “Militias” as a foundational argument, the Fifth Amendment equates the need for “Militias” with the need to address “public danger”.

And who, on August 8, 2014 would have picked an anonymous suburb of St. Louis, Missouri as the next flashpoint for urban violence?  My guess it that exactly ZERO in 317,000,000 would have picked Ferguson, Missouri as the next flashpoint.

The authors of the Fifth (and Second) Amendments were talking exactly about flash-mobs in shopping mall parking lots when they wrote “public danger”.

The second assumption is that the Second Amendment is about Militias, not arms:
If the Second Amendment is about Militias, then I should be able to organize a militia and legally buy the tools of the trade.  I should be able to buy, or manufacture for general sale, belt-fed, crew served weapons.  I should be able to buy mortars. 

Clearly I cannot even though I can own a firearm nearly any place in the country. That is proof of a vast body of precedence that the courts (and everybody else) realizes that the Second Amendment is NOT about Militias, it is about the right to bear arms.

The perfectability of humans
One of the fundamental differences between progressives and conservatives is that progressives believe that humans are "fixable" and that the fixes are permanent and will never unwind.  You can picture that as a rock dragged across a beach.  It tends to stay where it was left.

Conservatives tend to believe that any improvements in the human condition are reversible and that inattention results in the a return to the base condition.  Furthermore, conservatives believe that maintaining the improved human condition consumes energy and that ever more energy is required as the social construct becomes larger and more complex the structure.  As some point, an equilibrium is reached where all resources are consumed in maintenance and small pertubations result in the entire structure collapsing.

The conservative might challenge the progressive:  "Suppose I get a tattoo and my child and grandchild get identical tattoos...How many generations must get tattoos before babies are born with them?"  The answer, of course, is "never".  Then the conservative is likely to ask, "Then why do you assume that your social constructs will become maintenance free, that people will be born "fixed"?"

Friday, February 24, 2017

Security cameras

Mrs ERJ mentioned that she likes to look at the dogs when they start barking.  She wants to see which way they are looking.  She wants to read their body language.

That is a bit difficult because our garage is between the house and the dog kennel.

I asked her if she would be receptive to the idea of my installing some security cameras.  We went outside and talked through where it would make sense to put them.  Field-of-view is one major consideration, but so is protecting them from the occasional errant basketball.  Mrs ERJ also wishes that they not be too conspicuous.  But other than that she thinks that is a fabulous idea.

Too much information.

I like learning about "stuff" and this has a very steep learning curve.  There are multiple "standardized" cable and communication protocols.

The lucky part is that our needs are simple.  We need relatively few cameras and want to be able to watch in real-time.  One camera needs to be a wide-angle.  The other a bit more focused, say 15 feet of view at 30 feet.  Any additional cameras would be a bonus.

The wide-angle would look at the dogs.  The narrow focus would be strategically placed to look at faces of drivers or license plates of vehicles coming up the drive.

I would love to be able to display both of them on a wide screen monitor, side-by-side or to have the camera switch every two seconds.  The monitor would be mounted by the door we normally go out so we can simply walk to the door and watch TV for four seconds before making some decisions.

Sometimes having a locked door between you and trouble is the only thing that buys you enough time to do the things that must be done.  It does not pay to put yourself in a position where you must go outside to assess the situation.

At this point it looks like Powered-by-Ethernet, variable focus cameras are a good option, as is a cheap, 19", flat screen VGA computer monitor.  The mystery is all of the black boxes that must go between them to make the system work.

As I said, it is a very steep learning curve.

Fake cameras

One of my neighbors has a security camera at the end of his driveway.  What is cute is that he has it conspicuously labeled  "Camera No. 10" which suggests that he has many cameras.  This is clearly not The Gray Man strategy.

I think a bit of misdirection is appropriate in security applications.  The risk for this guy is potential perps might wonder what he has on the premises that warrants so many security cameras.

That is also one of my concerns when cameras with night vision (IR emitters) do not have motion sensing activation.  Why do I want to transmit that I have cameras and their exact locations?  Even better than motion sensing would be to have the IR emitters not co-located with the camera AND have them motion activated.

It is not hard to go from a solid $50 camera to a $1000 camera.

An intermediate solution is to mount a few obsolete or broken trail cams in discrete places.  So much the better if some of them work.

I am humble
If any of my readers have experience or opinions....I would love to have you chime in.

Mystery solved: Why joints make noise as we age

We continue to take dinner over to mom and dad's on Fridays.  Today we took tilapia, sweet potatoes, grape-apple-yogurt salad and small cups of blueberry pie filling for dessert.

I clean dad's CPAP machine.

Mrs ERJ washes my mom's hair.

My mom's joints sound like a old, wooden ship in heavy weather as she gets out of her chair.  Those of you who are over fifty know what I mean.  And, according to my highly placed sources, it gets to be more and more of a chore to get out our chairs as we age.

She looked over at me and asked in her "school teacher voice",

"Do you know what that is the sound of?"

I shook my head "No".

"That is the sound of applause."

God bless you Mom, for being so positive.

Fake News Friday: Beating the Norks would be a walk in the park.

How hard could it be?

They have a WWI economy.  The GDP of the entire country (26 million) is the same size as the GDP of Lexington, Kentucky (roughly $12 billion.)

The North Koreans have a WWII military.

How hard would they be to beat?

Harder than you might think.

It appears that they have no inhibitions against using poison gas.  They used a nerve agent to kill the leader's half-brother.

The leader is ruthless and cultivates the image of addressing perceived slights with over-kill.  You know, like killing a minion who fell asleep in a meeting with a mortar round.
At first look, North Korea only has a few weapon types that can reach Seoul.  They would have to advance about 20 km (12 miles) to be able to saturate Seoul.
It gets more ominous when you look at prevailing wind direction.  The rounds don't have to reach Seoul.  The wind will blow it the rest of the way.  Data from Gimpo Airport

The topography is not well suited to armor.  Even if armor was activated, it would be a bear to keep fueled and armed in a toxic environment.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Medicare for All: Tyler Cowen Challenge

Medicare for All was a plank in Bernie Sander's doomed run for the Democratic Presidential nomination.

In case you are not familiar with the Tyler Cowen challenge, it came from a very short essay he wrote titled Ways to Burst your Filter Bubble.  The money line is

"Reading articles from other perspectives isn’t enough.  Try writing one."

I ran into a gentleman the other day...
and he buys into the  hypothesis that conservatives and liberals have drifted so far apart and become so hardened in our respective positions that there is very little we can say to each other.

I saw that as a challenge.  The guy truly is a gentleman.  He is in his mid-sixties (a guess), is intelligent, calm and well spoken.  I disagreed with his position.  After telling him about the Tyler Cowen challenge he offered three topics.  One of those topics was "Medicare for All".

As an aside, another reason I asked the gentleman for topics is that anybody can regurgitate that same, lame opinions week-after-week.  I call them "The short loop" bloggers.  I tire of them quickly.  The only way to judge the quality of an infielder (in baseball) is to watch them field hot grounders.   The topic: "Medicare for All" is a hot grounder for a "conservative" blogger.

Incidentally, these opinions are mine and mine alone.  I did not have them vetted by the vast, alt-right, sooper-secret, opinion homogenizer.

Medicare for All:
Health care must be recognized as a right, not a privilege. Every man, woman and child in our country should be able to access the health care they need regardless of their income. The only long-term solution to America's health care crisis is a single-payer national health care program.  -From the Bernie Sander's website

Where we probably agree
The current system is not working very well.

The current system is like an old, beater car that runs just well enough to nickle-and-dime you to death with repair costs...and docked wages.
Not very impressive.  We are paying more and getting less.

Health outcomes are a public safety concern.

Communicable diseases are making a comeback.  The Herd Immunity effect is an important tool in our arsenal.

People with untreated mental health issues can be violent.  They can hurt you any time, any place.  That can be the drunk driver who is "self medicating".

Access to health care is a moral issue

Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’  And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’  Matt 25:34-40
Access to health care is an economic issue

Sick people cannot work.  People with sick children cannot work.

People on Medicaid, which is means tested, are trapped in part time jobs because adding hours will bounce them from the Medicaid rolls.  They cannot afford to push-through, work full time and acquire skills that add value to their work...and to the economy.

I agree that a basic level healthcare should be available on a non-means tested basis.
I also think that it is a completely artificial distinction to separate dental and optical health from basic healthcare.  Both dental and optical should be included in the basic, non-means tested healthcare program.


I disagree about the vehicle used to deliver that healthcare.

Consider a 17 year old boy who likes to take his two-wheel-drive truck "off-roading".  He frequently gets it stuck.  You might thing getting him a 4WD vehicle with better tires would solve the problem.  Not so.  It usually results in our 17 year old hero getting stuck that much deeper in the swamp.  The $50 tow truck bill becomes a $400 tow truck bill.

Pumping money into a broken system does not fix it.  More money just drives it deeper into the swamp.  Trying to salvage pieces-parts of the dysfunctional system is like trying to reuse an old barn.  You cannot cherry-pick your way to an efficient, rational system.

Healthcare is a huge issue.  I will address one facet of it.

Emergency Rooms
Emergency Rooms are, in many cases, where people go when they need medical care.  It is their preferred "gateway".  It is an expensive path and there is no gatekeeper.

According to Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, most Emergency Room visits cost an average of $1200.  Why so much?
Have you ever walked through a woods after a heavy, but windless rain?  Simply touching a branch results in the water, precariously suspended in the tree's canopy raining down on you.

So it is with Emergency Rooms.  There is a tremendous amount of overhead and unallocated costs waiting to rain down on the head of anybody who touches a service.  Those costs have to go somewhere.

The traditional General Practitioner is not immune to the pernicious effects of overhead.  He has all kinds of ancillary support people to pay.  His office is usually in a nice part of town and is nicely appointed.  The GP can deliver nearly all of the care of the Emergency Room at 10% of the cost.  His basic cost is $120.

But why stop at the GP?  New Zealand milk producers were able to lower costs to 25% of US "conventional methods" producers.  What would it take to drive the average "emergency room" like visit down to $30?  Heck, make it $35, $30 reimbursement from the Federal Government and a $5 copay.

You would have to eliminate most or all of the people providing those services.  That would not only shrink the payroll, it would shrink the floor space and rent.  You would have to put that office space in a low rent district...which is actually an advantage to the people who live there.

You would have to replace the doctor with a touch screen kiosk and Artificial Intelligence.  Simple, cheap technology like IR temperature measurements and pulse/blood oxygen sensors could be incorporated.  Both of those technologies cost about $20 and are robust.

The kiosk would walk them through a diagnostic tree.  I will simulate running through such a tree just for giggles.  Apologies in advance...I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV.

First screen:  Patient selects Female

Second screen: Patient selects 30-39

Patient selects No

Patient selects abdomen/chest

Patient complies with request

Patient complies with request

Patient selects elephant and balloon

Patient selects More than 3 days but less than a week

Patient selects No

Patient selects More than 3 days but less than a week

The number one demographic in Emergency Rooms, according to Doc Rocket, is 26-to-35 year old women.

Their number one cause is abdomen pain.

The number one cause of that pain is constipation.

The number one root cause of their constipation is three-fold...lack of hydration...lack of fiber...lack of exercise/movement.  Two of the three root causes are due to women not wanting to use public toilets, a concern that can be partially addressed by giving them a small package of antiseptic wipes.

The $3 therapy is to give them 32 ounces of Gatorade with 20 grams of PEG 3350 dissolved in it...wait twenty minutes and then have them walk on a treadmill for 40 minutes.  Don't stand between them and the bathroom.  Oh, and give them a package of wipes.

Why should it cost $1200 to deliver $3 worth of medicine?  Medicare for All would lock in that $1200 bill, and make it climb.